Defendants file counterclaim in dispute over western Minnesota land sought for a county park

·3 min read

Aug. 2—MONTEVIDEO

— Defendants in a civil lawsuit over land that Chippewa County is seeking for a county park have refuted the claims made against them, and filed a counterclaim.

In their answer, property owners Mary and Dennis Gibson and Keith and Vicki Poier charge that the lawsuit by Robert W. and Phyllis Starbeck is an effort to muddy the title to their property to prevent its sale to Chippewa County.

The two couples seek damages of more than $10,000 in their countersuit. They ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit by the Starbecks against them and for clear title to their property.

The Starbecks filed the lawsuit claiming "adverse possession" of the 40-acre property jointly owned by Gibsons and Poiers. It is located near the Minnesota River south of Montevideo and adjacent to property owned by the state of Minnesota.

Chippewa County has a purchase agreement with the Gibsons and Poiers for their property and agreement with the state for its property. Both parcels are sought for the park.

Claims made under adverse possession laws are sometimes called squatters' rights.

In the lawsuit, the Starbecks charge that they have been maintaining a road, camping area and farm field for more than 15 years and have a claim to the land title. They also charge they farmed an area of encroached farmland "in a manner that was, for no less than 15 years, actual, open, hostile, continuous, and exclusive manner," thus meeting the requirements for adverse possession under Minnesota law.

The Gibsons and Poiers refute the claims and make the point that they have paid the property taxes on the property. They stated that the Starbecks had approached them about purchasing the encroached farmland, but they declined to sell it.

The answer and counterclaim by the Gibsons and Poiers state that their property includes some tillable farmland, a gravel pit referred to as Lake Louie, and an outdoor classroom they developed in partnership with the Montevideo School District.

Ag teachers and students built viewing decks and a stairway to a slough, planted trees, developed trails and have maintained them, according to the Gibsons and Poiers. Donuts were made for nesting birds. The water pond was stocked with bluegills. A pontoon was built in the lake. A parking lot for visitors is located there for visitors and buses for the outdoor classroom.

The Gibsons and Poiers state that Starbeck maintained the recreational campground/outdoor classroom area, but did so with their permission. They reimbursed the Starbecks for gas for the mowing expenses.

According to the Gibsons and Poiers, after the Starbecks learned of their intention to sell the property for a park, "communication was exchanged between the parties. Part of the communication included a discussion regarding the lack of merit regarding any claim Plaintiffs (the Starbecks) may make regarding the Real Property."

It was after this exchange that the Starbecks filed the lawsuit that the Gibsons and Poiers allege "muddied the title" and resulted in the alleged damages and attorney fees.

The Gibsons and Poiers are represented by attorney Richard Stermer of Montevideo and the Starbecks by attorney Doug Kluver of Montevideo in the civil case.

Chippewa County has put its plans for developing the park on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.